What is it that really keeps our rural towns going?
Of course, part of the answer is the huge amount of enterprising commercial activity that goes on in them. Equally obviously, the public services make a notable contribution to sustaining the life of our towns. And so, too does the combination of our architectural heritage and the rural landscape within which our towns are lucky enough to be set.
But, as I often remarked in this column, the so-called “voluntary sector” – the activities that are neither publicly provided nor commercial – is also an enormous and all too often under-rated part of what makes our country towns in West Dorset so habitable and so attractive.
Just in the last few days, two examples have come into view – both in Sherborne, and of very differing kinds.
The first is the marvellous news that local parents have managed to raise £7,500 to help replace the equipment used by children for playing at Blackberry Lane, and have thereby triggered the release of enough money from the Town Council and District Council to pay for renewal of the play equipment which had decayed and had therefore become unsafe.
The huge and successful efforts of local parents – raising money through a whole range of different kinds of fundraising – have rightly been rewarded. And now this lovely spot, with its magnificent views out to the countryside will once again offer children in that part of Sherborne all the excitements to which their predecessors were accustomed.
It was some while back that I first became involved with Blackberry Lane Play Area. But it was even longer ago that I first found myself taking part in discussions about the establishment of a new arts centre in Sherborne. So I am delighted to see that, on 13 March, the proposals for a splendid new gallery in the centre of town, next to the Paddock Garden will be presented to the public as part of a consultation.
I have been lucky enough to see the plans for this beautiful new building. I have also seen how it will provide a combination of magnificent exhibitions for important works of art and first-rate new facilities for local arts groups.
All of this is being made possible through a combination of the land provided by the public authorities and an incredibly generous private donation.
This project will contribute not only to the cultural life of the town but also to its commercial life – by creating another significant reason for people from all over the South West (and beyond) to visit and spend their money in the town. I hope very much that we will now see it move forward. It certainly deserves to have a place in Sherborne – and Sherborne certainly deserves to have such a thing in its midst.